Report: US-Bound Emirates 777 Diverts Over Terror Threat

Report: US-Bound Emirates 777 Diverts Over Terror Threat

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While details are limited (and there might just not be more information made public), two Emirates flights departing Athens yesterday had significant operational disruptions, and it seems to involve a suspicious passenger. I initially wrote about this yesterday, but we now have a few more details, which I wanted to add to this post.

Before we get into the details, it’s worth understanding that Emirates operates a fifth freedom flight between Newark (EWR) and Dubai (DXB), which stops in Athens (ATH) in both directions. Passengers can fly any of those segments individually, or can book the flight to travel between the United States and United Arab Emirates.

Emirates flight from Athens to Newark returns to Athens

On Thursday, November 10, 2022, a Boeing 777 was scheduled to operate Emirates flight EK209 from Athens to Newark. The flight departed as planned, and for the first 90 minutes operated the standard routing. While flying over Sardinia, the plane entered an extended holding pattern.

Eventually the 777 started to fly back toward Athens. However, it didn’t take the same routing back. Instead the plane exclusively flew over water rather than land, which caused a significant detour. Furthermore, as the plane approached Greece, it was escorted by fighter jets. In the end the plane landed back in Athens roughly 4hr20min after takeoff.

A Newark-bound Emirates Boeing 777 had to return to Athens

As reported by the Associated Press, the flight recall was made following a request by US authorities. Greek media reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had a reason to believe that there was a passenger onboard who posed a threat to the plane.

I don’t know if that’s true or not. Personally I’d be surprised if this much information about the source of these details was revealed publicly. However, I imagine some intelligence agency somewhere had concerns.

Italy and France both allegedly refused to allow the plane to land there. The fact that the plane had to fly over the open water paints a pretty grim picture of what may have been suspected here. Typically in the event of a diversion, it’s not normal for the plane to avoid land the entire way to the destination airport.

According to passengers, when the plane landed back in Athens, those who had originated in Athens were allowed to disembark, while those who had connected from Dubai had to stay onboard. However, Greek police reports that after a thorough inspection of the aircraft and passengers was performed, nothing suspicious was found.

Emirates flight from Athens to Dubai delayed by hours

Interestingly it wasn’t just the Dubai to Newark flight that was impacted by this incident. Emirates also had a Boeing 777 scheduled to fly from Athens to Dubai on Thursday, November 10, 2022, with flight number EK210. The Athens to Dubai Emirates flight that was scheduled to depart around the same time ended up being delayed by several hours on departure.

The plane had started to taxi to the runway, but was asked to return to the gate before takeoff. Passengers were told to deplane, and a thorough search was performed of the aircraft, though nothing was found. The plane was scheduled to depart at 5:55PM, but ended up only departing Athens at 9:53PM.

An Emirates Boeing 777 departed from Athens to Dubai late

What Emirates says about this incident

An Emirates spokesperson has issued the following statement regarding this incident, more or less confirming what we knew:

“Emirates can confirm flight EK210 from Athens to Dubai on 10 November returned to stand before take-off, and flight EK209 from Athens to Newark on 10 November also made an unscheduled return to Athens, due to security checks requested by the authorities. Passengers on flight EK209 have been rebooked to travel on 11 November and provided overnight accommodation. Emirates apologises for the inconvenience caused.”

Bottom line

At this point we have more questions than answers, though suffice it to say that something strange was going on with Emirates’ Athens flights yesterday. The Newark-bound flight returned to Athens while avoiding all land along the way, it was escorted by fighter jets, and those on the flight who had originated in Dubai were asked to stay onboard. Meanwhile Emirates’ flight from Athens to Dubai was delayed by hours, so that the aircraft could be searched.

It seems that this was all triggered by some sort of security threat. Presumably authorities either didn’t know which of the two flights was impacted, or had reason to believe that both were. However, after both planes were inspected, nothing suspicious was found. That makes you wonder even more what exactly happened.

What do you make of this Emirates situation in Athens?

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  1. Euro Aviation Guest

    Perhaps flying that EWR bound 777 back to Athens in that circuitous route served the added purpose of burning off fuel to at or below max landing weight.

  2. Austin Iyashere Guest

    It helps to know that someone is watching your back on these flights. It feels really helpless once that plane takes off.

  3. ThetruthIs Guest

    Before leaving Dubai on the morning of the 9th, on Emirates, we were told we'd be 10 minutes late because they were removing someone from the plane. The plane had a scheduled stop in Milan but we were not to change planes but they required everyone and baggage to deplane, supposedly for cleaning. This thing may have been bigger than just Athens.

  4. SamB Gold

    They may not have found any suspicious items onboard, but I'm very curious what happened to the passenger they were looking for.

  5. Jerry Guest

    Unvaxxed passenger, maybe?

  6. Spies R US! Guest

    Jonathan Pollard was trying to sneak Back in?

  7. Big AL Guest

    Trump would have fixed this for sure. MAGA

  8. GUWonder Guest

    Perhaps the French and Italians didn’t want a suspected upcoming asylum claim from a “suspected terrorist” landing on their land, but the Greeks had less choice with the flight originating at ATH and so their backup was to find the person who flew in from
    DXB and send them back to torturers in the UAE?

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      I suspect the US communicates with EU authorities, not Greece which is why Italy and France knew as quickly as they did.
      The question is then how the suspected person was on US but not EU watchlists because the EU has a similar process as the US as does Canada.

    2. GUWonder Guest

      Thr communications went via bilateral national levels, not EU level.

      It’s pretty easy to be watchlisted by USG but not by the EU. The US is more blacklist happy than the EUrocrats.

      Keep in mind that when the Emiratis wanted to kiss up and come across as “good allies”, they too do their intelligence relaying on bilateral national levels, not EU level, for maximizing strategic benefit for themselves.

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      I can agree with what you wrote after the 1st paragraph but please let us know how your statement in the first paragraph is correct.

    4. GUWonder Guest

      There are now public articles indicating that the station desk at the US embassy in Athens relayed the information directly to Greek authorities.

    5. ThirdCoastTraveller Guest

      Greece is part of the EU so if they talked to the EU they talked to Greece and if they talked to originating and fly over countries they talked to Greece.

      Either way Greece, France, and Italy all would have received some level of info.

      And while the EU has all member organizations for intelligence and border security, all the countries still have very strong independent agencies of their own.

    6. GUWonder Guest

      For purpose of speed of responsiveness and due to national prerogatives remaining operationally superior in relevant matters in this area, we more typically go directly to the national partners and not the EU-level ones first when there is an “emergency”. Just saying.

  9. TravelinWilly Diamond

    As long as nobody in first class was harmed, all is well.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      @TravelinWilly

      As long as the plane was re catered with Dom Perignon and Caviar when returning to Athens.

  10. Stuart Guest

    Very odd. The fact that they took an overwater route back to avoid a more direct land routing is pretty telling as to the seriousness of whatever the authority was suspecting. Further, that Italy and France refused the aircraft to land is really odd (and cowardly). I mean, c'mon, an aircraft that was deemed potentially in distress...get them down quickly and be supportive. So much for EU cooperation.

    In the end the sad reality...

    Very odd. The fact that they took an overwater route back to avoid a more direct land routing is pretty telling as to the seriousness of whatever the authority was suspecting. Further, that Italy and France refused the aircraft to land is really odd (and cowardly). I mean, c'mon, an aircraft that was deemed potentially in distress...get them down quickly and be supportive. So much for EU cooperation.

    In the end the sad reality is that someone on the plane probably had the same name as a suspected terrorist and it was all a mistake. I imagine this will end up a big nothing. But it will be interesting to get a follow-up nonetheless.

  11. Tim Dunn Diamond

    makes you wonder if this type of circumstance would have been prevented with a pre-clearance facility at DXB. The EU and US regularly exchange passenger info so it undoubtedly wasn't until the entire manifest was sent to the US after takeoff from ATH to include the DXB originating passengers that the risk was identified. EK sends that info on a nonstop flight to the US but probably does not need or want to for a segment that makes a stop before flying to the US

    1. GUWonder Guest

      The entire passenger manifest is ordinarily sent by EK to US DHS/CBP before these flights even board their passengers coming to the US from Greece. The scrubs begin before the flight passengers are even checked in for the flight, and unwanted passengers get hit by a DNB before boarding even commences.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      yes... but what about through passengers? EK doesn't send the US the passengers w/ destination USA when the flight is boarding in DXB, do they?
      And this isn't the first time that the US has flagged a passenger issue after the flight is enroute.

    3. Sean M. Diamond

      @Tim Dunn - details any passenger with a US destination in their PNR is transmitted to DHS starting between 96-24 hours prior to the flight with a final reconciliation either via batch file 30 mins prior to departure, or (as in the case with EK) via API query at checkin. If the pax had a boarding pass issued with a destination of Newark, then they were initially cleared by CBP who subsequently reviewed and revoked the clearance.

    4. Tim Dunn Diamond

      that is the way the system is supposed to work but it clearly didn't in this case.
      Either the data was not properly transmitted or the reservation for the flight was created at the last minute and EK did not need US approval to depart DXB for ATH, the US went through the data once the entire manifest was sent after departure from ATH or someone saw something early on and escalated it but...

      that is the way the system is supposed to work but it clearly didn't in this case.
      Either the data was not properly transmitted or the reservation for the flight was created at the last minute and EK did not need US approval to depart DXB for ATH, the US went through the data once the entire manifest was sent after departure from ATH or someone saw something early on and escalated it but a final decision did not happen until the filght was airborne to the US.
      The US does share its watchlist data w/ other countries so either there was a mixup with who the suspect was or the US identified the person after lengthy analysis.
      Either way, the system did not work and that is a shame for EK and for the integrity of the global aviation system of which the US plays an outsized role

    5. Sean M. Diamond

      @Tim Dunn - as I noted above, Emirates has an API with CBP that does real time authentication before a US-bound boarding pass can be issued. In case a PNR was created within the PNL cutoff time, an ADL would have been immediately generated to CBP, followed by APIS details when inputted, and finally the API verification prior to DCS clearance to issue the boarding pass. No way the system would be able to issue...

      @Tim Dunn - as I noted above, Emirates has an API with CBP that does real time authentication before a US-bound boarding pass can be issued. In case a PNR was created within the PNL cutoff time, an ADL would have been immediately generated to CBP, followed by APIS details when inputted, and finally the API verification prior to DCS clearance to issue the boarding pass. No way the system would be able to issue the boarding pass without that.

      I've dealt with similar cases to this (thankfully not involving an aircraft already airborne) and in most of these cases the issue is not with the actual passenger, but rather a known alias that is not in the CBP DNB list but is flagged by secondary or manual review (ie. not by CBP but by other "agencies").

    6. GUWonder Guest

      The system “worked” as is. The US DNB target was a Turkish national with Greek residency flying in from Dubai. The US wasn’t sure if he was on board a flight leaving from ATH or deplaned at ATH. No prohibited weapons, explosives and incendiaries discovered with the passenger. Wouldn’t be surprised if the security threat was related to sanctions-busting and/or related money-laundering via Dubai.

    7. GUWonder Guest

      They did.

      The system “worked” as is. The US DNB target was a Turkish national with Greek residency flying in from Dubai. The US wasn’t sure if he was on board a flight leaving from ATH or deplaned at ATH. No prohibited weapons, explosives and incendiaries discovered with the passenger. Wouldn’t be surprised if the security threat was related to sanctions-busting and/or related money-laundering via Dubai.

  12. Creditcrunch Diamond

    I very much doubt that the CIA would publicly release or even confirm or deny any involvement in this incident. Any intelligence shared with a third party would not originate from an intelligence agency, they would go through official channels like US DHS via the Greek equivalent which was then disseminated to the airline authorities in a clear and concise way.

    1. SadStateofOurCountry Guest

      You can get it at Mar-a-Lago while playing golf.

    2. GUWonder Guest

      More likely, some USG party in cooperation with Emirati tools had US intel and Emirati intel share info with their relevant European counterparts and the info get out the European way. I would not be surprised if the CIA was on the case and had to lobby to get these flights from ATH stalled and to possibly enable a turning back of a DXB-origin passenger back toward the UAE.

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Sean M. Diamond

@Tim Dunn - details any passenger with a US destination in their PNR is transmitted to DHS starting between 96-24 hours prior to the flight with a final reconciliation either via batch file 30 mins prior to departure, or (as in the case with EK) via API query at checkin. If the pax had a boarding pass issued with a destination of Newark, then they were initially cleared by CBP who subsequently reviewed and revoked the clearance.

6
Watson Gold

Crawl back into your hole, please.

4
SadStateofOurCountry Guest

You can get it at Mar-a-Lago while playing golf.

3
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